UPDATE; Due to requests to extend the deadline for comments in response to the notice to allow seismic blasting, the National Marine Fisheries Service has extended the deadline by 15 days to July 21. To have your voice heard, address comments to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments should be sent to ITP.Laws@noaa.gov.
WILMINGTON — As the deadline for public comment regarding proposed seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast approaches, several local organizations are gearing up in opposition.
Dana Sargent, head of the Cape Fear Surfrider Foundation’s Offshore Drilling campaign, has helped rally the groups against the proposal.
Members of the Cape Fear Surfrider Foundation, The North Carolina Coastal Federation, Oceana, the Water Keepers Alliance, and others have pulled together to form Don’t Drill NC, an non-profit group dedicated to fighting this proposal.
“America First Offshore Energy Strategy”
The proposal, put forward by the Marine Fisheries Division of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), seeks to allow five separate entities to conduct seismic air-blasting tests of the seafloor from the coast of Delaware, to Cape Canaveral, Fla., in an area extending 350 nautical miles offshore.
Although exploratory in nature, these tests are being used to locate areas of valuable oil and natural gas, which, if found, leaves the potential for drilling off the coast of North Carolina.
President Trump issued an executive order, called the “America First Offshore Energy Strategy,” in April of this year, aimed at repealing Obama-era regulations designed to protect the Atlantic coast from offshore drilling.
Sargent said the order aims to have the Department of the Interior re-evaluate its leases on the ocean floor from 2017-2022, paving the way for oil exploration.
After signing the order, President Trump said: “Today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs. Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves.”
Although the industry generated by this sort of policy could potentially generate millions of dollars in revenue, some worry that the risks involved outweigh the benefits. A 2011 study by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce stated there was only enough of the natural resources off our coast to support less than six percent of the national demand. This equates to roughly 38 days-worth of oil, and 98 days-worth of gas.
In 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated parts of the Gulf of Mexico. The area still has not fully recovered, and the lingering effects are still being felt in parts of the gulf, and even far into the U.S. interior.
According to a 2013 study by N.C. State University, the economic toll alone from a spill that size on the North Carolina coast would cost the state over $83 million in revenue, and that’s just to offshore industries.
The estimated loss of property value on the North Carolina coast ranges between $636 million and $4.7 billion dollars, and the potential loss to marine life could be permanently devastating, according to the study.
The Marine Mammals Protection Act
This loss of sealife is one of the most contentious issues involved in this plan. Almost every form of life in the ocean, from endangered Right Whales all the way down to microscopic plankton, are sensitive to the sound waves generated by this type of seismic testing.
Sound waves generated by high-powered naval sonar and seismic guns like these have been blamed for marine mammal stranding’s across the planet.
The group Don’t Drill NC points to the environmental legality of the situation, arguing that under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this legislation is highly illegal.
“If it wasn’t for the Marine Mammals Act, they wouldn’t need to open a public comment period for this sort of action,” Sargent said.
The proposal looks to allow “the authorization to ‘take’ marine mammals incidental to conducting geophysical survey activity in the Atlantic Ocean.” Essentially giving the OK for these companies to cause collateral damage for the sake of oil exploration.
The Marine Mammals Protection Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to prove that only “small numbers” of individuals from a stock, population, or species of marine mammal are harmed or affected by offshore activities, like seismic air-gun blasting.
The problem, according to Sargent, is that it’s impossible for these companies to know how many animals they’ll impact. These surveys overlap, and cover thousands of square miles.
“They’ll potentially be testing from three miles out from the coast of New Jersey, all the way to Florida,” Sargent said. “Twenty-four hours a day, every 10 seconds. This is a massive amount of space, and a massive amount of noise. It’s a scary, scary concept.
The seismic-testing companies argue that they will be able to determine if marine mammals are in an area before testing, using passive acoustic monitoring to listen in on whales and dolphins. However, Sargent says that these animals have been proven to go silent long before a ship of this size gets close enough to hear them.
Sargent also points to the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits harm to endangered species, like the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.
“The North Atlantic Right Whales only habitat is this area off the Atlantic Coast. If you lose just a few Right Whales, you could harm the entire species,” Sargent said.
The public comment period for this legislation closes July 6. To have your voice heard on the issue, visit federalregister.gov.
Don’t Drill NC is working toward building a citizen action group, called Save our Sea NC, which, according to Sargent, will be similar to the “Stop Titan” group several years ago. For more information about Don’t Drill NC, and to find out how you can get involved, visit dontdrillnc.org.
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